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Game 3: Nets face Grizzlies in first road test

Memphis Grizzlies v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Now that’s more like it. After a downright embarrassing loss at the hands of the Pelicans in their season opener, the Nets cracked open the win column thanks to a hard-fought victory over the Raptors in game 2. Toronto came as advertised: long, athletic, tough, and led by ascendant star Pascal Siakam. A real you-know-what to play. But the Nets showed far more resilience this time around, and Kyrie Irving, who finished with 30 points, showed far more of the shotmaking we’ve come to expect from him. Add that up with a Royce O’Neale dagger from deep, and you get a win everybody can feel good about.

Monday night, they’ll travel to Memphis for a showdown with the Grizzlies. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but even though they’re dealing with some injuries, the Grizz are led by the incomprehensible Ja Morant and have some new role players, fresh out of the factory Memphis produces them in.

Where to follow the game

No nationally televised fuss to worry about. YES and the YES App will have the broadcast, and WFAN-FM has the radio call. The game starts at 8:00 p.m. ET at the FedExForum in Memphis.


In good news, Joe Harris is officially off the injury report, not even questionable! However, Seth Curry, still recovering from that left ankle injury, is inactive. So too is T.J. Warren, still a ways away from making his long-awaited from a left foot injury; he has not played since December 29, 2020, as a member of the Pacers.

On the Memphis side, Dillon Brooks is questionable (thigh) for Monday’s contest, while Ziaire Williams (knee) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (foot) remain out. Danny Green is also out, but seeing as he’s just five months removed from an ACL tear, it remains to be seen if he’ll play at all this season.

The game

The Nets exorcised a demon with their Friday night victory over the Raptors, who had defeated Brooklyn in 22 out of their last 27 matchups. They’ll have a chance to exorcise another, albeit smaller one when they face Memphis, on a six-game winning streak against Brooklyn. The issue has been defense, with the Grizz putting at least 115 on the board in all those games, including a couple of 130 spots.

In more recent news, the Grizzlies are coming off a poor defensive showing of their own, a Saturday night shellacking at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, 137-96. Fatigue may have been a factor; it was the second game of a cross-city back-to-back for Memphis.

Predictably, head coach Taylor Jenkins didn’t make any excuses for the group: “I think a great team played great and we didn’t play great.” Suffice to say, they’ll be returning home with a chip on their shoulder, looking not only for improved defense, but outside shooting as well, after going 9-33 from deep.

Thus, a parallel between the position Memphis will be in Monday night, and the one Brooklyn was in on Friday night. The Nets shot 30% from three and gave up 130 points to New Orleans in that catastrophe of a season opener, but improved those marks to 37% and a hard-fought 105 in what Steve Nash called a “character win” over Toronto.

The improvement from distance was largely due to Kyrie Irving’s five threes, many of which were tough, off-the-dribble attempts (shocking, right?) and the return of Joe Harris. Harris shot a pedestrian 1-2 from three, but his mere presence behind the arc instills a level of spacing that Brooklyn’s other reserve options don’t.

The two most encouraging individual performances, though, belonged to the two lanky lefties in Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons. The latter’s second real game in 16 months was meaningfully better than his first, particularly in the way of driving to the basket and creating defensive panic. As for Claxton, it was nice to see the grizzled 23-year-old embrace a return to a self-proclaimed “Young Clax”, which apparently means flying around on both sides of the ball. The defense, per usual, was eye-popping, but he created more offense than we’ve seen him create in a Brooklyn uniform.

Something to monitor against Memphis will be how Steve Nash utilizes his bench after running a playoff-like nine-man rotation against Toronto. No reserve cracked 20 minutes. Does Joe Harris, with a game under his belt, reduce the workload of Royce O’Neale, who played 39 minutes on Friday? Does Yuta Watanabe see the court? Cam Thomas?

Player to Watch

Former second-round pick Santi Aldama, in his second ye - I’m just kidding. It’s Ja Morant! Of course it’s Ja Morant. I couldn’t argue if you told me he was the player to watch across the whole NBA this season. He had 49 points and 8 assists against Houston on Friday night, and is averaging 34 and 7 through three games. He’s also made eight of his first 14 attempts from deep. Good luck, NBA defenses.

Offensively, Morant and the Grizzlies are the lightning to the Pelicans’ thunder. New Orleans, with Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas, and friends, destroyed Brooklyn’s interior defense with brute force and size. They were a varsity team’s offensive line running drills against the JV defense. The Grizzlies can also be expected to put a ton of pressure on the paint. But it is going to come from Ja Morant, who will run a million pick and rolls with the NBA’s best screener in Steven Adams, and then fly through the air looking to put someone on a poster or make a kick-out pass for three milliseconds before he hits his head on the backboard. I would assume O’Neale gets the Morant assignment, while Claxton guards Adams. Whether Brooklyn switches those screens or encourages O’Neale to fight through them is certainly something to keep an eye on.

From the Vault

On February 2, 1996, these franchises, then in Vancouver and New Jersey, squared off for the first time. The Nets won a competitive affair by a very 90’s score of 93-84. The Nets’ leading scorer had 29, the Grizzlies’ leading scorer came off the bench and had 27. Not an easy question by any means, but can you name one or both of those players? Don’t look ahead!

It was Armen Gilliam leading Jersey and, in what was by far the highest-scoring performance of his lone year as a Grizzly, Byron Scott leading Vancouver. Chris Childs also handed out 11 assists for the Nets.

And a bonus! Have a look at one of the most underrated, vicious poster dunks ever dunked, courtesy of a man who played for both of these teams, Stromile Swift:

Good lord. Welcome to the Stro Show. That is a perfect poster, from the cock-back to the away crowd gasping in horror, to the fact that it sounds like someone tossed a hand grenade on the back of the rim. I opine that it rivals Gerald Green’s infamous windmill alley-oop for the best dunk in Nets history. That’s what you get, Tyrus Thomas, for biting on a Stromile Swift pump-fake from 17 feet out.

Further reading, go to Grizzly Bear Blues.